If the labor movement had actually been focused, for the last 40 years, on the kinds of deep organizing methods described in the cited pieces, the PRO Act would already be law. The law follows power. Capital has the power, and that's why the PRO Act is highly unlikely to become law. We can't manufacture a position of unity, strength, and power from the halls of congress because those institutions are not meant to be responsive to the needs of working people and are not filled with people sympathetic to the plight of the average American. The Senate is where popular momentum goes to die. 45-49 senators will all get to say how great the PRO Act would be, and then can blame Joe Manchin for killing it. No one will face any political repercussions, some will be rewarded for the bill's failure. The labor movement shares a political party with the bosses it faces at the bargaining table, and labor is becoming increasingly irrelevant in that political coalition. The answer does, in fact, lie in organizing.

The fact is that the American labor movement long ago decided it would take a path of conciliation with industry, rather than confrontation with the goal of eventually transcending the capitalist mode of production. That worked for a time, but the economic conditions that allowed workers to extract major concessions from industry during WWII and the post-war years are not coming back. And yes, capital may be more powerful today, but the union busting methods used today are actually much less oppressive and violent than what was happening at the turn of the 19th century, as you know. Mystifying the current regime of power only serves to reduce the confidence of workers and movement leaders in the ability of working class people to achieve solidarity with one another and organize for the common good.

I'm a labor lawyer and I would love for the PRO Act to become law, but we have to be honest that the unions we have, as institutions, are ill prepared for the fights necessary to solve the problems we face today.

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What evidence is there that "deep organizing" alone would be successful in bringing about anything you mention? It's been incredibly unsuccessful at a macro level.

I agree with much of your comment from a perspective of left theory. But I don't know how to put anything you suggest into action beyond "wait for the workers to save us." I am not mystifying anything about the current predicament; I am simply observing over 70 years of historical evidence. The answer can't simply be "chuck out all union bureaucrats and bring back the Wobblies," can it?

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I’m not sure what you are referring to as far as the “macro level” attempts to do the kind organizing that McAlevey writes about. That certainly isn’t how the largest unions in the US have attempted to combat neoliberalism and austerity politics since the 1970s. In any event, there is an equal, if not greater, amount of empirical evidence pointing to the futility of trying to reform labor law through the democratic party, and that history goes back to when unions were more powerful, with a larger membership that voted democratic more reliably.

I’ll be ecstatic if the PRO Act manages to pass, but the US Senate isn’t going to pass that legislation without immense pressure from below. This is a country that doesn’t pass gun control when children are routinely shot in schools and doesn’t have a universal healthcare system as thousands look to crowdfunding sites to pay avoid healthcare-induced homelessness. The Senate won’t just pass this because it’s good for workers, or even because its good for the nation as a whole. So, I disagree that organizing post-mortems miss the point. The point, I think, is that Labor needs to focus on reviving the “movement.” I don’t have the end-all answer for how to do that, but I’m confident that organizing ordinary people (and this is not synonymous with winning NLRB elections) is a prerequisite to the goal of getting pro-labor legislation through a body that is deeply hostile to the interests of working-class Americans. A $15 minimum wage, for example, is far less of a threat to the interests of capital than the PRO Act, and we saw how that went down.

If we can’t win big campaigns under the current rules, sure, the rules should be changed. But isn’t forcing the hand of the Senate a harder road than winning an NLRB election? If we can’t win under these rules then organized labor should start looking at alternative models of organizing. Maybe an election and bargaining a first contract isn’t the right goal for every campaign under the current legal regime. Why invest so much time and energy in getting a first contract when the employer can run roughshod over it with virtual impunity?

I agree that those on the left need to look beyond the vision and strategies employed by the radicals of the 30s and 40s and the rank and file movements of the 60s and 70s. Both were ultimately unsuccessful. But we shouldn’t be ahistorical about those defeats either. Those radicals were, in many cases, still deeply racist, which was and is the biggest obstacle to achieving mass working class solidarity. Further, even the old CIO leadership was committed to weakening the power of rank and file workers decades before McCarthyism or the Cold War . So those movements failed, but they were also never supported by the labor bureaucrats of any era.

I’m not saying simply wait for spontaneous radical mass action to break out (though labor has failed to really capitalize on the moments where that does occur, such as the George Floyd rebellion). Labor has a role in organizing the radical mass action! And if we take the position that movements can't be built but-for hospitable legal regimes we’re forever stuck here.

There are no easy answers and I appreciate the space for the dialogue.

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